- synonyms:goblin, hobgoblin, gnome, halfling, demon, monster, bugaboo, ogre
- “the storybook trolls who live under the bridge”
Our modern-day version:
A person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content. Internet trolls.
The additional bold is mine.
I got trolled on Medium.com yesterday morning. Nothing new, except that this kind of puerile behavior is rare on this format. Most of us do our best to be gracious when offering differing opinions with respect, and mind our manners.
That is limited to those who care enough about others’ rights to have an opinion, a take, a POV. There are, well, some 7.442 billion of those (as of 2016), and each has a perfect right to their way of seeing. I don’t agree with many but that doesn’t make them all stupid. Well, perhaps in some cases it does. Not that they don’t agree with me per se but when you start arguing with me that the Earth is flat or that climate change is a hoax, you’ve largely lost your soapbox (if not your marbles in general, but hey, that’s just my opinion). At that point we either need to change the subject or gracefully go our own ways.
The key word here is gracefully.
Social media, and in particular Facebook and Twitter, has opened a Pandora’s box of breathless rudeness. Call me old-fashioned but I appreciate debate in which you offer a take, I turn it over and consider it, and with luck you do the same for me. That way I learn, you learn, we may not necessarily change our minds but there is -with luck- greater geography across our collective brain pans. We see differently. If we’re fortunate we can appreciate where someone else comes from. I’ve had several excellent exchanges on Medium with people whose views did not at all track with mine, but I learned a great deal and more so, highly valued the thoughtful, respectful exchanges I’ve had with others of unlike mind. That is a gift. What a damned boring world if everyone agreed with me, or anyone else.
Yesterday morning’s troll read my Fifty and Wiser Men Medium.com story, and, in response sent me a barbed reply (Including demanding to know Who cares?)that ended with “leave us alone.” In effect, he engaged in precisely the same kind of attempted slap down that I was describing in my story- angry older white men who seem to have nothing better to do than attack women (or anyone in general) they don’t know. That’s exactly what this guy did, which I find endlessly amusing.Then he hid behind the collective imaginary coattails of “all of us.” Who precisely is “all of us?” Asshole Trolls Unlimited? The Community Under the Bridge? Dickheads United?
This kind of puerile posturing to include some imaginary group that he pretends to speak for is exactly what bullies do. Without enough courage to come out and have a dialogue, invite an exchange, he calls forth the great, amorphous “all of us.” This veiled reference to this vague group he pretends to represent is the tactic of the powerless and fearful coward.
If you’ve ever been approached by a (ridiculously childish) complaint that includes words like “all of us have this problem with you,” or “the whole office is angry about…,” or “all your friends are saying…” then you know whereof I speak. In other words, this person doesn’t possess the balls to say “Look, I have a problem with you.” I did that once as an adolescent and got called out on it. Rightfully so. I haven’t done it since. It speaks to a deep lack of character and a terror of being called on the carpet for our own spinelessness.
Speaking for yourself and owning that this is YOUR issue, of course, requires courage and maturity. Trolls are not possessed of either.
I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else. I can’t. All I have is my own take, and to posit that I know what others think and feel is beyond arrogant. A good example of this are those who have the conceit to “speak for all veterans,” then make comments that don’t even begin to represent my female, disabled veteran needs, political views or any other damned thing. Actor Gary Sinise is great at this, speaking with dripping sarcasm as though all vets are Republicans. No, you arrogant jerk, we aren’t. We’re Democrats and Independents and many of us aren’t Christian but we all wore the uniform and all of us agreed to take a bullet for our country. How dare you or any other self-appointed spokesperson for “all veterans” pretend to know our hearts and minds? You raise money for vets, but kindly, you didn’t serve.
We did. And “we veterans” are as broad and widely individual and richly diverse as the American public. However, in this, as in all things, I can only speak for my own disabled, female, Independent veteran self.
For a fun read on how one Marine vet responded to this “vetbro” community see https://taskandpurpose.com/rising-twitter-star-speaks-veterans-shares-origin-story-tp/.
The Sacred Individual Voice
Even if you and I happen to agree I’d have to solicit your permission to speak for you. Otherwise I am treading on boundaries. If someone agrees with me on Medium, that’s highly pleasurable but that neither makes me right nor does it give me implicit permission to speak for that person. The individual voice is sacred, even if it is at times silly, or sad. Or vicious.
As for “who cares?” Well, here’s the thing, Mr. Steve Jobe the Troll: All of us who write for Medium.com are writing about our experiences and what we know. We present ideas and thoughts and opinions based on what we see, read, experience. That’s the whole point. As for “who cares?” If you- or anyone else- don’t care for what I pen, or what anyone else says, how about demonstrating the “Big Boy” mentality and Just.Walk. Away.
To wit: I had a very spicy response to Mr. Jobe.
Wrote it. Got it off my chest.
Then erased it.
Then I blocked him. I am not giving this unfortunate cretin permission to ruin my day or spike my blood pressure. However I am grateful to him for article fodder. His example allows me to make a few perfect points about why we need folks like Mr. Jobe.
The Real Gift of Trolling
Here’s the real value in a troll like Mr. Jobe. Each and every time someone shows up like a right a**hole, you and I have a choice: respond in kind and immediately slide into the pig sty which is precisely where they want you (read: they win). Or, you can practice a skill that collectively, we as a society have largely lost: blow it off to the side, and walk away with dignity. People’s comments have value, to a degree. The most vicious and ugly also have a purpose: they force us to think and consider. Also there is a unique and much higher opportunity to acknowledge that people like Mr. Jobe are disturbed, or sad, or angry, or bitter, or any combination of same, or some issues that only they understand. Or don’t, as the case may be, which causes them the need to do harm to those who will never touch their lives.
There have always been trolls- in our offices, neighborhoods (my northern neighbor, collectively known for three blocks in all directions as “That Asshole Jerry qualifies), our churches. Wherever there is a community, there is likely to be someone who is horrifically unhappy and who deeply wishes to get even with the world for his condition. Social media is the perfect format for such people.
In this we can experience both empathy and pity. We don’t have to allow the sewage they swim in to undermine our day.
The Bridge of Woe is Me
Our modern challenge is to embrace the sad fact that social media has given voices to the teeming troubled. From under the bridge of Woe is Me, they can lash out at anyone and everything. Our uncontrolled, angry reactions give them pleasure and power they don’t otherwise perceive they have. It’s how they feed off our frustrations, hurt and angst. Those are mother’s milk to a troll, at the cost of our collective general happiness and good will.
Wanna feed a troll? Overreact. Write something nasty back. You’ve just had a vampire drain your blood.
Or, you can recognize a troubled soul. If need be pen a response that allows you to get the ill will out of your system. Then erase it. It’s done. Let the trolls waste away under the bridge. They are not your problem, unless you let them be. You have to give them permission to do your state of mind harm.
So yes, Mr. Jobe did me a favor, of sorts. He reminds me that even in the best of communities there is a bell curve, at the far end of which are trolls under the bridge. They are there to keep us honest, responsible, and thoughtful. That is indeed a gift. Just as in every religion the elusive Devil or Gollum or evil spirit has a key role keeping us in line through their constant temptations and tribulations, the role of the troll is key to keeping us sane, thoughtful, mindful, and empathetic.
There but for the grace of God go I.
I’ve lived in my own self-made jail cell created by allowing inflammatory Facebook memes incite me to riot. Deeply embarrassing, and not the way I wish to walk in this world. However, without this fecal matter being thrown at me I would miss out on the best opportunities to learn how to take the high road. That’s the best role for a troll: building our character.
For more on being manipulated by social media (including trolls) see https://maximizesocialbusiness.com/emotional-manipulators-social-media-34460/. I agree with most of this. But for that with which I disagree I most assuredly don’t feel the compulsion to speak for “all of us” and rip the writer a new one. I got enough value and outright belly laughs out of it that it was well worth the read, as well as sharing with Dear Reader.
Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Jobe. Not the result you wanted, my guess, but it’s the outcome I choose. I choose to be gracious, mature, and self-contained. Without people like you, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice being a grownup.